I love Christmas, but I hate it. I’ll bet you do too. After 57 Christmases, I have found the holiday to be ironically complex. It is the celebration of the first time God came near to us in the person of Jesus- to express love, acceptance and appreciation to us. It is joy, peace, family and love but also of stress, exhaustion, worry and even depression. So what gives?
Research shows a surge of depression amongst Americans during the holidays and if you ask any random parent on the street, she will tell you that she can’t wait for the holidays to be over. The buying, wrapping, cooking, driving, baking, shopping, parties, family tensions, mailing, school celebrations, church commitments, you name it- there’s just too much for most of us to do. How did this wonderful celebration morph into a season of high-stress for so many parents?
The answer, I believe, is that we have become brutally harsh in our expectations of others and ourselves. We want to make our children happy so we do what we learn we must do to make them happy- find the gift they are dying to have and do what we must to get it to them. But even as we shop, we know that we are fooling ourselves. The exhilaration will last a day or two and then poof it’s gone. But we push ourselves to deliver anyway. We see ourselves as performers for our children – deliverers of happiness and this, quite honestly is too much for us.
What would happen if we had the courage to take that pressure off of ourselves? What would the holidays be like, for instance, if we decided to dial back and enjoy our children instead of delivering for them? This doesn’t seem like much of a shift, but it enormous.
Here’s what I mean. Instead of spending money we don’t have on gifts our children will like for a couple of days (and won’t remember in a few years anyway) what if we surprised our kids by picking them up from school a couple of hours early one day and took them off to a park for the day? Or what if we made a pact that each person in the family had to make the other something very simple for Christmas-write a story, paint a picture or write a letter? How dramatic a paradigm shift would it be to have one Christmas or Hanukkah where no one could spend money but offer a gift of promise or creativity? Give the gift of an evening in January when two of you will spend four hours alone together. Spend an evening writing about the character qualities of a loved one on scraps of paper and put it in a box, wrap it up and give as a gift. (A dear elderly friend of mine did this for me 15 years ago and I keep it in my bedside table to look at when I feel down.)
We know that joy comes from feeling loved and accepted. Store bought gifts are OK but are no substitute for the real thing. So how about we challenge one another this Christmas or Hanukkah to go to one less concert, office party, shopping trip bake a few less cookies or special meals and go another route. Happiness comes from sitting, talking, playing, listening and serving one another. This is the real thing- expressing acceptance and love.
This Christmas, I choose to love Christmas again- fewer gifts, fewer expectations of myself and others. I want more conversations. I want to watch more, listen more and pay attention to what my loved ones are doing. I hope that this will give them what they really want from me- my time, attention, appreciation and understanding that I love them will all of my heart.
After all, that’s what I really want from each of them.